10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an Online CAD Model Solution

In previous posts on this blog we have discussed key reasons for adding CAD to your website… for example,10 Reasons to Use CAD to Increase Industrial B2B eCommerce Sales and How to Use Product CAD Models To radically Increase Manufacturing sales - Part 1. In summary the typical reasons include:

CAD Part Downloads save designers time - the quickest way to a CAD model is to download it!

  • Increase Sales
  • Influence the purchase process
  • Generate Leads
  • Provide self service
  • Reach new customers
  • Increase loyalty of existing customers
  • Obtain competitive advantage
  • Lower costs
  • Extend distribution channels
  • Augment traditional marketing


If you are considering adding CAD to your website here are 10 questions you’ll want to ask yourself and any vendor before getting started.


1. Will adding CAD Models of my products to my website help grow my business?

There's a more thorough process here but, at its simplest, ask yourself whether your customers have requested 3D CAD models or 2D CAD drawings of your products?

If the answer is yes, then there's clearly a customer need! How do you meet that need today and what does it cost you today? If the answer is no then find out if any of your competitors offer online 3D CAD models or 2D drawings of their products? If they do, find out whether their business has grown since they added CAD and how their customers have reacted to having access to their CAD models or drawings? Is it a competitive advantage for your competitor? If it is then you'd better catch up fast!

2. Do you already have 3D CAD models and 2D CAD drawings of your products available?

It is key to offer accurate, 2D or 3D CAD, complete solids and surfaces, with associated attributes (Manufacturer, part number, etc.) that protect your Product IP and provide users with the formats they can use. There is more detail here but at its simplest, if you already have suitable CAD models and drawings you can probably use them. 'Probably' is because if they were created by your own engineering group you may want to 'hollow them out' to conceal the ‘secret sauce’ or IP (intellectual property) of you products. Does your engineering group have time to create and maintain a separate set of CAD data for marketing purposes?

Alternatively, if you don't have CAD models of the products you sell then you'll need to create them. Distributors, for example, often don't have access to manufacturers' CAD models or drawings. What will they cost to build initially and to maintain over time?

Whether the starting point is existing CAD models/drawings or new CAD models/drawings, the ones you'll use online will likely need to be created. If that work is done by a third party, ensure that you will retain ownership of the CAD models with no dependence on whoever builds the models. This will give you the flexibility to move them to a different CAD solution supplier if you so choose in the future. We'll give more detail on CAD formats in another question below but the point is to ensure your long term flexibility. Do not get locked into some proprietary system and format that could mean:

  • A high cost of maintenance of your CAD models to keep them up-to-date as your products evolve
  • Rebuilding all your CAD in order to change suppliers.

3. For my CAD models are technical issues (such as quality, size, format, etc.) very important for success?

Your 3D CAD models and 2D drawings need to be accurate in all aspects. The challenge of reliably ensuring high quality, perhaps across thousands or even tens or hundreds of thousands of product CAD models or drawings can be a daunting task. Ask potential suppliers to present their methodology and processes to ensure quality is achieved.

Your 3D CAD models and 2D drawings need to be detailed enough for the designer to use yet as small in size as possible so they download as fast as possible, and when added to large assemblies, don't overload the workstation by making the assembly cumbersome to use.

On file formats, there are two sides to consider, firstly the format in which your models are built and maintained and secondly the format or formats in which they are available to CAD users for download. Here are several links to more detailed information on CAD formats but beware of any CAD download vendors who attempt to lock you into their proprietary CAD formats and thereby restrict your ability to change vendors in the future.

The key point is that the CAD solution will need some sort of model server to generate and download the selected CAD model in whatever format the user wants.

4. Does the CAD solution enable 3D viewing in a browser without any additional software downloads?

A Viewer enables users to see fully rendered and 'lifelike' 3D product CAD models to enable correct product selection. The viewer should also allow user manipulation (pan, zoom, rotate, etc.) of 3D models. Ensure that suppliers' viewers offer very high performance in a modern browser without installing any additional executable, activeX or flash software. Users are often justifiably fearful of downloading and installing new software and as a result industrial B2B websites can lose control of the user experience or give a poor one. Not requiring any additional downloads is the obvious answer.

5. Does the solution integrate cleanly with your website, without having to go to a second site to access the CAD models?

Any CAD solution you choose must be easily integrated with your website and any other solutions within it to provide a consistent and intuitive user experience - not two different user experiences. In addition by keeping the experience wholly on your domain all the traffic accrues to your internet domain authority not someone else's. See this post for technical details not to be missed! The key is to get lots of pages indexed under your main domain.

6. Does the solution enable syndicating of your CAD content to other locations across the internet?

Syndicated content can include product data and CAD models and enables industrial suppliers to automatically share their data with their partners' e-Commerce websites and catalogs. The partners may be Distributors, Resellers, OEMs or others such as CAD search engines. The key is usually one centrally managed and maintained data source that can be automatically used to keep all partner sites up-to-date. Any updates to the master data are automatically synced across all related sites. Typically manufacturers are already absorbing the cost of keeping their own data up-to-date, but every data change is additional cost for partners and delays are opportunities for customer dis-satisfaction! Ensure the solution includes totally synced data without any additional people, cost or maintenance!

7. Is the solution ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) or an ‘on premise’ solution?

Software as a Service (SaaS), also referred to as “on-demand” or “cloud computing,” is now a compelling delivery model for business applications. SaaS, eliminates many of the barriers that keep companies from implementing or upgrading their software because it enables you to focus on your core business operations instead of managing IT to support them. You don't need to purchase software licenses, software maintenance or hardware, you just need to subscribe to the service. As such SaaS is usually less expensive than licensed software - certainly from a CAPital EXpenditure (CAPEX) point of view as large up-front costs are replaced by monthly subscriptions (often purchased as operating expenses OPEX). They are also highly scalable (no issues as your traffic builds), low latency (fast page loading worldwide) and extremely reliable (high availability) high speed data centers. SaaS solutions are traditionally sold on a subscription basis over a term, (e.g., on a per-user, per-month basis for 36 months). However, one item that often goes overlooked is ‘pricing protection’. Address what the subscription fees could be at the time of renewal, a good solution will cap any potential increase for a subsequent terms.

8. Can I collect leads from users who download my CAD models, and can I automatically populate my CRM with the leads?

Online CAD downloads are an important sales and marketing tool for all industrial suppliers and distributors and through use registration become sales lead generators. The CAD solution should include optional registration to capture leads and integration to your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system so that all customer interactions can be collected and reviewed in one place and to enable sales lead allocation and tracking, for example, to ensure rapid allocation of leads to local salespeople or distributors. We recommend allowing website visitors to view 3D CAD models in their web browser without having to sign in or register. This is part of their search and selection process so you want no obstacles in their way. However, once they have selected a product and request a CAD download then the solution should, optionally, be able to ask them to complete a one-time, minimal, user registration. By 'one-time' we mean that the user only needs to register for their first download not repeatedly for every download and by 'minimal' we suggest name, company and email address. The sales lead generation should offer many options, for example, whether or not to validate the customers email address by sending an email to that address with a confirmation link to click - this confirms that the user has access to that email address and it works. Additionally the solution needs to integrate with your current.

Good reporting is vital too. You need to know which of your CAD models is viewed the most, or downloaded most often, or which users download the most, or what company domains are downloading which product CAD models/drawings, or what are your weekly or monthly or yearly trends? The CAD solution needs to include an analytics system to track and provide reporting online 24x7. Even if you aren't using lead registration you likely still see download counts and trends by product code.

9. What happens at the end of the relationship? Who owns the CAD data? How do you get your data back?

Breaking up can be hard to do. In case you ever need to separate from your CAD solution supplier, you’re going to want to do so smoothly and take your product 3D CAD models or 2D drawings with you. Some vendors charge termination fees, some quietly auto renew contracts, others simply make life difficult or charge surprise fees. Look into the vendor’s contract terms regarding data ownership and termination, and understand what to expect if you decide not to renew.

10. What is the solution vendor’s track record? Do they have a long-standing, transparent history?

Reputation, trust and transparency are important in any relationship, perhaps especially with SaaS solutions in which a vendor is hosting and managing highly visible solutions. Do some due diligence. How long has the vendor been around? How many customers do they have? What is the satisfaction of their customers? How many have left? Why? Do they have a history of serving your industry? Are they stable and profitable?

We hope that list of questions helps you but if you have want more detail on any of them please call or click either button below.

And one more thing... perhaps spend 3 minutes watching this compilation video of several industrial suppliers that use CAD Models in their marketing.

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